I wrote earlier about how things were simpler for our moms (no working vs. stay-home mom debate, no agonizing through thousands of child-care advice books), but in the interest of fairness (since my mom might read this!), progress has resulted in some real sanity-savers, and not just the big obvious ones like cellphones and minivans with cupholders. Here are a few advantages we have over our moms -
Ziploc bags - Think of all the uses to which we put this underappreciated invention, especially when our kids are younger (snacks, pacifiers, diaper wipes when we lose the travel size pouch and don't want to carry the Costco 500-pack in our purses), but they also come in handy as pastry bags, cosmetic organizers, or a way to bring home the goldfish your kid won at the raffle. Granted, these days we're supposed to pack school lunches in re-usable containers, but I'm sure most of us revert to the occasional ziploc bag, which is so much easier than the waxed paper I vaguely recall from childhood. (Waxed paper is right up there with other memories of obsolete items shared by our generation, like rotary phones, 8-track tapes, sanitary belts, and E-ticket rides at Disneyland.)
Self-adhesive postage stamps - Does anyone else remember those contraptions that had a small water bottle attached to a sponge-tip? Or the home-made one of a wet sponge in a saucer? I don't really miss the taste of postage stamps, but it is weird to think that our kids won't know what they tasted like (joining other sense memories like the sound of chalk squeaking, the smell of purple mimeographed papers, or the sound of the little bell instructing the teacher to advance the film strip).
Stretch jeans - I don't buy jeans anymore without that lovely hint of spandex, just enough to make them comfortable. In jr. high I remember buying jeans, lying down in a bathtub and soaking them while I was wearing them, then letting them dry to achieve a decent fit. But they never felt right until they'd been worn and washed so much that they were barely held together by the remaining threads (which of course meant you had to cover the really embarrassing worn spots with embroidered flowers and peace signs). That was fine when I was 13 and weight 85 pounds - but it also explains why our mothers never wore jeans!
In trying to find more example of the benefits of progress, I considered including cable t.v., tivo/dvrs/vcrs, all the various ways that let us watch what we want when we want, but I also miss the days when a scheduled t.v. special was a real event. We used to make a big deal out of the yearly airing of The Wizard of Oz - when I was really young, I would try to convince myself I was rooting for the witch instead of Dorothy, so I wouldn't get so scared! In those days, we only had a black & white t.v., and by the time we got a color set (here's another bit of pop culture history - our color t.v. was a Heathkit that my dad and my uncle built!), I was in high school and too busy with activities to stay home on Wizard of Oz night. As a result, I never knew about the color section in Oz, until I got to college, where during finals week the film society would lighten the mood with one night of kiddie movies (and one night of porn, but that's another story). When Dorothy stepped out of the house and things burst into lurid color, I just figured I'd picked up a contact high from all the smoke in the room.
Note - I've told an edited version of this story to my kids, and of course they react to my story of a black & white t.v. the way I reacted to my mother's stories about using an outhouse on the farm where she spent summers. My kids also can't grasp why I didn't just rent the movie, or tivo it - after trying unsuccessfully to explain life without videos, I gave up, and they gave me the look we gave my dad when he claimed he'd had to walk 20 miles to school, uphill in both directions.